Lifeline

Been a while, hasn’t it?

I am not dead yet, unfortunately, but at least things have been looking up on one aspect of my life.

As soon as I resigned from my previous job, I landed another two weeks after. It was a temporary position, but it pays well and I got to learn a lot, from the people I work with and from the job field itself. It is definitely an upgrade, but more importantly, it feels like loosening a knot that is not even necessary to be tightened, to begin with. For that, I am grateful.

Yet the heavy feeling won’t really go away.

There are still good days and bad days for me, like a cycle. Most days, I was just sad. On another, there are triggers–glimpses of dysfunctionalities around me which reminds me I am broken and that there is no way for me to escape it. On certain moments where hope seems to win, it called out to me saying I don’t have to remain unfixed–that I may be okay and I will be if I get the chance to see myself out of the circumstances I am in. But another voice has the last word in this: will Lady Fortune be merciful enough to grant me that chance? Suddenly I am convinced that I may be predestined to misery and reprimanded myself that I shouldn’t have been stupid enough to listen to all these self-development gurus talking about “how everybody should aim for happiness” and “fulfillment of their potentials” bullshit when I was younger.

It does not help with how the society seems to believe that adults can and will sort out this stuff well eventually. Mostly they pretend to. Alas, not all of them make through it. And they only hurt other people with their bad choices as a consequence. Most cruel of all, nobody seems to want to do anything about it.

At times the heavy feeling only gets worse every second, thoughts of regret and self-hate become frequent yet there is no way of getting used to it. I found myself wishing that I could just be whisked away from this world, or even have the guts to end it all. But then I can already hear these shrieks of how death is never the way. “Just don’t do it!” they say.

How convenient.

Let me hear it out then, why is it that I can’t do it? I was born into this world without having any say in it. I don’t even enjoy most of it–I was only making my way from one option to another, which are obviously far from ideal. And now you’re telling me I can’t even make any decision on how I want to opt out of this terrible place?

Selfish, they say. So what, I simply need to keep on barely living so they will not have to deal with it? Which pot is calling the kettle black now?

It’s funny, that exact phrase: death is never the answer.

I’m sorry I’m not as brave as I should be. I’m sorry I’m not as strong. I’m sorry it doesn’t make sense. I’m sorry there isn’t one main cause that explains this. And finally, I’m sorry I’m not as lucky to not feel things the way I do.

But I’m not sorry that I do.

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The Body in the Landfill (Trash Trio #1)

 

TrashTrio1

Design via Freepik by dilchh

 

“Chen Roo-ee…”

“It’s Ru, Mrs. Jones,” she said as she raised her hand, not having more people butcher her name anymore on the first day at school as a sixth grader. Mrs. Jones, the Math teacher, took notice of her and nodded with a rather nervous, “Okay,” and a slightly scarlet face. Ru thought she might also feel overwhelmed with all the sixth graders she needed to roll-call on her first day as well. But she really doesn’t want her classmates to get free ideas in case they eventually decide to pick on her. It got pretty bad for Barney Jones (everyone erupted to the I Love You song in the hallway) in fourth grade, and Sunny Le (they just laughed every time she was on roll-call until a teacher noticed this halfway through the semester) last year. Their names were not even exactly taken from another language as hers.

From her peripheral vision, she can see one of her classmates mindlessly looking at the clock, another playing with his pen, and another one, whom she never saw around before, has been dunking his head on the table since second period. It is understandable though, Ru reckoned. It has been a whole day of nothing but roll calls and pep talk.

Just as her stomach is about to grumble, the school bell rings. Ru hoped she would make it in time for the lone seat near the window at the cafeteria, also that the remaining two periods wouldn’t be too long.

Ru hopped on her bicycle and dashed out of the school gates. Like any other day, she went past the stores in Gran’s Avenue, all the way through the one bookstore in town, Wan’s, took a right and cycled away from the residential areas of Linford. She headed to the shortcut through the urban forest and crossed the shallow creek, which her mother is never really pleased about because she still reckons it too slippery and dangerous. But it got her down the hill by at least 10 minutes faster, so her Mom relented to her stubbornness on the condition that Ru does not use that path when it’s the rainy season.

She can already see the tiny security cabin with its signature blue roof she always frequented after school. She was excited to visit again after the last two weeks of summer she spent with her Dad who lived in another town following her parents’ divorce. But as she turned towards it, she heard sirens screaming, and saw that they came from two police cars and an ambulance, parked in front of the security cabin. She quietly stopped and placed her bike nearby a tree, and saw a familiar face, handcuffed and escorted by two huge policemen out of the cabin. A brown-and-white Akita, which was primarily the reason why Ru visited the place, barks and follows the officers along as if trying to ask the officers to let his owner go. In a blind panic, she hastily makes her way through the crowd.

“Terry!” she called out, which alerted the officers and Terry himself, “what happened?” The dog, named Milo, barked and went down the stairs and made to Ru’s side. It let out a sad whining sound.

“Ru,” Terry began, “please go home. The guy on the next shift will watch over Milo.”

“Is this kid related to you, Sir?” the officer asked.

“No, no,” Terry quickly replied. “she just usually comes here after school to play with the dog. I’ve told you my sister’s contact.”

“In that case, you should go home, kid. This is a crime scene. Your Mom won’t like you playing around here. Not to mention it’s too close to a dumpster,” the officer warned Ru, who was perplexed and still trying to put the pieces together.

“Wait, what do you mean a crime scene?” she asked, fidgeting, “and Terry has something to do with it? No way!” Another office was trying to coax her to leave saying that the police will handle it and she’d best stay out of the place when they heard something dropped on the floor and a tentative, “Uncle Terry?”

The boy with the sleeveless yellow down jacket over a red hoodie looked even more in shock, and this is the most alert Ru has seen him while he was basically sleeping through the whole first day. He dropped what looked like to be a lunchbox, which was probably Terry’s had he not been arrested. The other policeman, who looks slightly younger but meaner than the other one, was just about to open the door and shove Terry inside the car as he got frustrated with the interruptions.

“Please, officer, that’s my nephew,” Terry called out, “Max, go home and tell your Mom I’m at the police station. It’s just for some questioning, I’ll be fine, okay?”

“Alright, you two, stay out of the landfill. Someone was found dead,” the older officer said as he nodded to the crew who just lifted a bag inside the ambulance. He pointed to Max, “And you, kid, tell your Mom we’ll call from the station about your uncle.”

“He didn’t do anything wrong, did he? Why was he in handcuffs?” Max frightfully asked.

“We’re going to find out since your uncle may notice something when he started his shift early this morning.” And with that, he left with the police car and the ambulance.

“I-I’ll bring Milo with me,” Ru broke the silence as she also tried to get a grip on herself, “I don’t think anyone is going to come soon to feed him. W-will you…”

As Ru was just about to ask if he’s going to be okay and offered him some help, Max grabbed the lunchbox he dropped earlier, rushed to his bike and went off the other side of the road. Ru was startled but then hurried herself to get Milo in the pet basket Terry had, detached it from his bike into hers. She cycled home as she hoped nothing bad will happen to Terry.

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The Meek

Source: The meek.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone can just inherently be brave?

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone can be raised where bravery is encouraged? At least so that the society would show less tolerance on ignorance and injustice.

Oh, you think that’s how it goes in the world we live in? Well, think again.
It’s probably only something that is part of the school motto. Not so much in their curriculum. Not to mention that we all should scrape off whatever we learn at school to fit in the real world, even only for survival.

In fact, my mother did warn me once of how the acceptance and support to bravery in this world is a big, fat farce.

I remembered her frantic face when she saw my black eye at the teacher’s office. The kid who gave it to me–Bruce was his name, quite befittingly–and his mother was seated to my left. The principal went through what happened, and Bruce’s mother scolded him as she apologized to my mother and offered to pay for the medical expenses and all. My mother responded modestly while she kept her attention on my stoic demeanor.

We walked home hand-in-hand with each other, not saying a word. As we passed a nearby park, my mother broke the silence and decided it’s been a while since we watch the sun set. So she bought us an ice cream each and we sat on the bench across the duck pond, right at the direction of the almost setting sun.

“Your father would probably be proud that you chose not to punch him back, if that’s what you’re wonderin’,” she suddenly remarked, “he’d quote the Bible for it, too. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.”

I looked up at her and finally found my voice, “Do they really, Momma?”

She went silent briefly and said, “The meek don’t inherit the Earth, son. That’s just what the bold tell them, so they’ll get out of the way.”

She deliberately continued, “By somehow convincing the meek that they will have the world without having to work hard for it, the bold is doing half its part to maintain their position as the rulers of the world. By telling the meek to wait in complacency, the bold proves themselves superior.”

“So, you think I should fight Bruce back?” I inquired.

“Oh no,” my mother quickly answered, “I was just telling you your father will pick the wrong verse from the Scripture, take it out of context just to put a smile back on your face.”

She turned from her seat to put her hands over my shoulders and said, “I will say to you that not punching Bruce back does not mean you’re meek. Actually, you being punched simply because he doesn’t like being told off by you after he said girls are weak, I’d say that’s quite a brave thing to do. And I’m proud of you for that.”

I smiled back at her when I saw the beam on her face. The pain on my eye reminded me, “But it seemed like some people don’t like it when we are brave, Momma.”

She saw me cupping my blackeye with my hand, and said we’ll go to the clinic to have the doctor see to it, “but you’re right. People don’t like it when anyone stand up to them. Sometimes it leaves a bruise right here,” she pointed at my eye, then she hovered her finger to my chest, “sometimes, it leaves a bruise in here.”

“And sometimes,” she quietly added, “it’s hard to get away from constantly feeling the pain that maybe it’s easier to keep our heads down.”

I scrunched my eyebrows together trying to make sense what she just said, but then she brushed it off as she ran her hand through my hair saying, “Oh, what am I thinking? Maybe you’ll understand later when you’re older. But I really hope you wouldn’t have to go through it.”

We stopped by the clinic to get my eye fixed and went home for dinner. Little did I know that my mother was threatened to lose her job for 10 years at a nearby hotel because she was defending her coworker over a false theft report from a high-level guest. The coworker ended up resigning to prevent my mother for losing her job and herself from further embarrassment. In the end, she even told my mother, “At least I beat them up from firing me. And now I get to spend more time with the kids, so it’s okay, Jane. Don’t worry about me.”

If it weren’t for me and my sick grandmother, my mother would probably resign in a heartbeat, but she held on for another six months until she found another line of work and quit the hotel job. It took her a while because in a small town the word flew in no time to spread the news that my mother is a “ballsy” employee, and no employers would make such a person as first choice on their team.

Years after, I had never forgotten how grateful I am for her, and the conversation we had that day on the park. Not because it reminded me to stand up for what is right, but that it kept replaying on my mind whenever I need to settle with silence and submission. I tried to convince myself that whenever I don’t disagree with my superior’s terrible idea, I did the logical thing to keep my job and pay my rent on time; that I am in no place to deny the comfort that my salary has sustained me with. Still, I felt guilty whenever I remembered I don’t argue back because I don’t want to be the “ballsy” one–because the they sooner or later will lose their job and be forced to be content with something with far too little prospect. It is not just “easier to keep our heads down” sometimes, but most of the time–I understand it now, and more.

Dad was probably right. I am the meek one, aren’t I, Momma?

Offbeat

via Daily Prompt: Heal

She fixed her gaze on the tattered drum sticks she has been holding on her hands. She snickered sardonically, followed by tears, streaming down her eyes.

It was rather impulsive, how it all started. On her way back to her shoe box of an apartment, she discovered the building next to the printing service was no longer vacant. Three men were moving in some musical instruments to the three-storey building, and she suddenly felt a tap on her shoulder. It was the owner-slash-teacher, being friendly as he handed her a brochure to ask if she’d be interested to try out any musical instrument on the next 4 weeks for free. Thinking it’s a good chance to find a new hobby to get her mind out of work, she agreed.

After the second week, she was pretty convinced she wanted to learn how to play the drum. Other than having puddings for dessert after every meal, playing the drum also was as much as a childhood dream she wanted to fulfill. For the first time in her life, she enrolled to a class voluntarily–even spent some money from her own pocket for it.

She had no idea when in the timeline that it became more serious and less a hobby than she initially planned it to be. But it probably started on her fourth month, where she felt she has invested quite enough for her to be decent on playing simple, slow beats.

Never had she felt such competitiveness and ambition coming from her own self; but maybe that was residue of a family-imposed habit that for decades had unconsciously shaped her: to excel at everything you are responsible of.

It doesn’t help that she hasn’t eased in well with the new job she took just a couple of months before she took the drum lessons. Many a days, she looked to the mirror every morning, only to feel like she was just playing dress-up, just to look professionally acceptable enough. Many a times, she was unable to get proper sleep as she mulled over the things she “should” sweat over: Did I offend the coworker by being outspoken? Did I threw off the boss by pointing out where the project currently lacks? Did he take it too personally? Did I email the counterparts as properly as expected? 

Surely, having this determination to do the best was definitely a value one would think is appropriate to teach the kids. But not so much when it was oriented mainly towards the result, and not the process. Not to mention that it builds this perception that she could do anything as long as she tried hard enough.

Eight months in and she still cannot get a hang out of a basic 4/4 rock beat.

It strikes her that she was probably just not good at this particularly; she could just learn a lot of other stuff quicker than this. It shouldn’t bruise her ego or anything. But every time she missed a beat, it hurt her. It left her as frigid as much as every time she saw the disappointed look in her supervisor’s eyes, telling that her thoughts and actions didn’t reflect the best interest of the company.

No one could be any more dismissive to someone past their mid-twenties and them being a klutz. It’s just, how do they call it, “too much”.

As her tears dried, she stood up, grabbed her jacket and walked across the street to see if she can still catch her tutor before he closed the place for the day. Since she cannot just terminate her contract with the company, she decided to spare herself from the growing sense of self-inflicted inadequacy that might just push her to the brink of despair. Thank God refusing to give up out of the fear of “losing” to oneself has begun to sound ridiculous in her head.

He was just locking the doors to leave when she called out to him and say she’d like a break. She was waiting for a barrage of “Why?” or “Oh, don’t give up just yet!” coming from him, only to be welcome by a simple, “Sure. That’s okay.” She felt foolish for thinking a teacher would keep a student without talent or any form of progress, but then he beat that thought off of her head by saying, “Drop by again sometimes, though. There are only guitar classes on Thursdays, so if you miss having a bit of practice, you can just go to the classroom and try out some beats yourself.” She welcomed the gesture and muttered him a small thanks as he shrugged it off and waved her good night.

She was quite glad that she could let go of one burden and possibly revisit it as a hobby in the near future. But mostly, she was glad that she tried.

If only the same can be said for the job. But of course, that’s exactly why it would never cease being a little– how should one call it?–“too much”.

Choosers

via A warrior at heart. — PROMPTUARIUM

She always wakes up at dawn. Despite her tired eyes, every day she swiftly prepares food for breakfast and packs lunchboxes we will bring to school. For my little brother, she makes sure to put the rice and stir-fry in separate containers, being a little too picky for his own good. She cannot bear to see him look sallower than he already is.

We waved her goodbye as soon as we got ready. It was as brief as her seeing us off because she needed to rush to work. She told me once her boss was very strict to his employees’ punctuality. It’s funny that he doesn’t maintain the same attitude when it comes to payday. Yet she stays. She told me that it was because he allows her to go home early to prepare dinner and be with us. She told me I would understand once I got older.

I am older now, and I still don’t quite understand.

She has had chances to take up a more stable job with monthly salary instead of the measly commission that can take months until it reached her hands. She doesn’t have to worry about me and Jaden anymore–he’s no longer a picky-eater and on Tuesdays, I tutor after school–we’re big enough to take care of ourselves.

That night we were about to tell her to reconsider the job, she beat us to it. She sat us down, telling us that she will be taking a four-hour night shift at a nearby hospital as a receptionist so we can save up. By we, she meant me, or more specifically, my college admission fee. She told us she wanted us to just focus on our studies and that she would still make it for dinner. We insisted on preparing it for her. She smiled and cupped our faces, saying, “I had no idea how I deserve such nice kids. Thank you.”

I beg to differ; we have no idea how we deserve her. But on the same time, I cannot comprehend the fact that she wants us in her life on the first place. Is it because of him?

He used to take pride in his family background, until it betrayed him. It left him even more insecure of himself, refusing to acknowledge that he needed help, only understanding. But there’s only so much understanding one can give, isn’t it? Silently, she chose to take to her two feet as she went only as far as tend to his wounds. After all, he needed to face his own demons.

Since he was as good as gone, why not consider it done then? I will. But she told me it was not a nice thing to say, and that she simply thought it unnecessary for them to lead on separate ways.

One time, I was awake when she just got home from her night shift. She couldn’t feign not looking exhausted anymore, so she said yes when I offered her some warm milk. As I massaged her shoulders, I asked her if she has ever regretted this, and she immediately answered no. I asked her not to give me a normative answer, and that’s when she said, “Well, there are a few things I’d wish would turn out differently, but never you or your brother.”

After some thought, I continued, “Have you ever wished not meeting him then?”

She sighed and said, “I don’t know, Sweetheart. Whenever I tried to recall how it happened, it always seems like the meeting presented itself to me. As was the decision.”

I still don’t understand why she chose to stay.

To be exact, I don’t understand why, despite telling us to live for ourselves, she never seemed to live for her own.

Since her mind has never warned her to stop, her body did. We joked about how her arthritis was more like a blessing than a curse, seeing how she had more time to rest. Still, she somehow manages some energy left to think about the minuscule of things; how I should stop wearing my old blouse to work and let her buy a new one for me, how my brother needs to at least iron his shirt, how we should not skip lunch, or how we should take our vitamins regularly. Since her mind resonates stronger than her body, she never stopped and there is nothing we could do about it.

And I don’t think I can never understand it completely; her willingness, determination and compassion.

There are times when I want to tell her that life is hard; that had I been given a chance to choose, I might not want any part of it–day by day, just trying to get by. There are times I want to tell her that I had never asked for it–to be alive. Not to blame her, of course, but it just seemed unfair that she found something worth living in me, while I do not want it on the first place.

Then I stopped trying to understand. Instead, I started reminding myself of what I know to be true.

I know that albeit everything, I am more than willing to always come back to her. She is home, and that suffices.

She still wakes up at dawn, and I still don’t understand her as much as she does me. But we know we will somehow see each other at the end of the day.

A Lackluster Thrill

Source: Pensive

For the first and second part of this weirdass trilogy, clickity here and here.

“Why, you look like you’re… deep in thought.”

Jamie looked away from the window to find me standing near the door. As I made my way to the kitchen for a glass of water, he remarked, “You’re off from work early.”

“The boss decided everyone should be home early for Christmas eve,” I downed the whole glass in one-go, “of course, I had to willingly oblige. Who the hell would miss a chance for a longer weekend?”

“Oh,” he responded, rather disinterestedly, “that’s good.”

Weirded out by this melancholic-reflective act he’s pulling, I decided to just ask him, “What’s up with you? Something up with the studio? I mean, you would usually begin counting days to Christmas since July.”

“Um, no, no, the studio’s fine… I just got paid for finishing a project, actually,” he began to wander off.

“Spit it out,” I demanded, “It’s been a while, but did the Drain Duchess screw you up somehow? Made you eat raw fish gills or something?”

Three weeks ago, Jamie and I set on an unlikely adventure in the sewers to save him from perpetually smelling like one and eventually be ousted from society. Mr. Nomura, our neighborhood fishmonger and guide, managed to set us an appointment to one of the Twin Sisters–whom I call the Drain Duchess for short–of this funky guild fish-merchants are members of, so that we can get Jamie out of his misery. Thing is, only he and Goh, the Guild’s caretaker, may enter the chamber to see her. More importantly, the Duchess herself has requested that he would not tell anyone how she looked like and how the meeting went. At first, because Jamie is at least completely cured out of the weird curse, I did not even bother to ask. But since then, I seem to spot him looking somewhat pensive more often than not. Out of concern, I started bugging him with specific yes-no questions as to make sure nothing bad happened to him then; that way, he won’t have to break the promise, should another jinx be put upon him if he blabbered out stuff. So far, I am sure that nothing violent happened to him, but I am yet to confirm if he needs to do or eat anything disgusting. As to the question I just inquired, he responded with an downturn on the sides of his lips.

“Ugh, no,” he disgustedly replied, “even if she did, you know I probably need to struggle for hours with it. I was barely there for 15 minutes.”

“I mean, the alternative is to have fish guts as your daily deodorant,” I made a case for it, “You would not hesitate that long.”

“Well, yeah, you’ve got a point,” Jamie mulled, “but, no. That didn’t happen. And that’s not what’s been bothering me.”

“So, what is it?” I took a seat on the chair of our dining table, gesturing him to sit on the opposite chair. Slowly, he walked away from the window to join me.

“You know the deal with how adventures are portrayed in books and movies, right?” he began, “It’s about overcoming hardships, but more than that it looked awesome. Some of the characters even got to do cool tricks and stuff…”

“And yours is about falling in the gutter, smelling even worse than just shit and venturing in the drain domain?” I interrupted.

“Let’s be real, who would not be pissed? Who would want to hear a story that starts with, ‘So once I fell down the ditch…’?” he retorted, “I’d bring this story down to my grave. You have promised not to tell anyone either.”

“And you have my word,” I asserted.

“Good. Anyway, what kinda upsets me is the fact that it all ended just like that. In a matter of minutes, problem solved. We went back to our simple lives.”

I paused for a bit to process what Jamie had just said, and asked him, “You do realize that you were about to get stinky for life and missed the chance to be alleviated from it, don’t you?”

“Yeah?”

“Then why would you bother thinking about how the adventure could have been more interesting?” I can’t stop myself from laughing, “Seriously Jamie, wasn’t it better that you didn’t have to go through, what, trials or riddles to sort it out?”

“Well, yeah, but…”

“You were about to spend the rest of your life in the bathroom!” I exclaimed, “And if you tried explaining your predicament, not a single soul would believe you. You wouldn’t even get away with branding yourself as a lunatic artist. You’d lose your job, be forced to live in the street… or maybe the sewers! And you’ll stench forever…”

“Alright, enough with saying I’m gonna stink for life,” he butted in, “I got a feeling you’re enjoying that a little too much…”

I raised my hands up approvingly, “Okay, but you understand what I’m getting at, do you? Jamie, most people would want their problems to end as quickly as possible. You had a horrendously ridiculous one, and you got it taken care of, almost in a snap of a finger. That’s a good thing.”

He was silent, letting the words sink in. Then he nodded a couple of times before saying, “Yeah. Yeah, I guess you’re right. I mean, at least now I get to worry over if I will get another project for next year; not how to work and live in the bathroom…”

“Exactly!” I agreed, “And I lied to you earlier about being sent off early from work because, honestly, I just got fired.”

“What?” Jamie widened his eyes.

“Well, I resigned and the boss didn’t take it too well. But it doesn’t matter. Now we get to sweat over jobs together! I got some money saved, so don’t worry about my part of the rent…”

“No, no, let’s rewind this for a bit,” Jamie stretched his right palm in front of me, “I know you hate your job, Sam, but you actually quit?”

“I know, I know. I kept saying how I can’t risk changing jobs because of the sweet, sweet money I get from this one, but I guess I’m done being patient. Besides, it’s been 3 years and my supervisor understands. The big boss made a fuss of it, that’s all.”

Jamie doesn’t sound convinced which makes me a bit conscious on how strongly I come off as a coward, but hey, business is business. But then he said, “Okay. It’s just that I thought for a second you had raw fish gills for lunch,” he smirked as I rolled my eyes, “Congratulations then. Welcome to the Jobless Bums club. You’ll love it, for the first month, give or take.”

“Sounds good. At least we are not jobless AND smell like ditch.” We snickered at that comment. I was about to reach out for the cereal box and snack on it when Jamie beat me before I even touched it, putting the box away on the kitchen counter.

“Let’s just eat out today. I don’t reek like rotten fish anymore and you just came out of that tiger’s den. We should celebrate,” he stood up from the chair, “I just got paid, so my treat.”

“Shouldn’t say no to free food,” I followed suit, as we made our way to take our coats and wear our shoes, “what should we have?”

“Anything but fish. I am forever grateful to Mr. Nomura for the extra he gave us every weekends, but I swear we’re gonna smell like one soon if we have them any more often than that. No gutter needed.”

A Gift Never Too Late

via First christmas. — PROMPTUARIUM

It’s dark and hollow, so Ollie felt, but even more so than ever. The demons had all left hell to wreak havoc and ruin the holiday atmosphere. Now you know why family fights, accidents and death reached their tolls on Christmas eve and Christmas.

They were targeting a new record for suicide this year. See, humans aren’t even able to empathize with other’s happiness nowadays. They would succumb to envy easily; anything good looks more like a mockery to their own lives. Life is not fair, it has always been; the demons only made sure that none saw any glimpse of hope to get through.

But not all the blame is on the human, or the demon. Humans are naturally weak. The demons are only doing their job.

Since all the fire demons also left to help out the others, it was rather cold here in hell. After a few months here, Ollie figured that hell is all about extremes. It is either burning and arid throughout the year, or piercingly freezing on holidays. It is either stuffy and cramped in January, or mum and devoid in December. It is rather torturous at noon, but eerily dismal at night. Only one thing never changes: no matter how long anyone’s been here, not one will ever get used to the severity of it.

Frankly, it made Ollie gulped a strained one, to think she would stay here for eternity. At least when she was up there, she could hope for doomsday to come sooner. Then again, she was never sure if she will ever manage to secure a place in heaven.

Just my luck, she thought, at least I’ve lived a good one.

She was just about to return to her cell, succumbing into the distress that naturally exudes at nighttime in hell. But something on the corner of her eyes caught her attention. Strobe lights are emanating from a huge pit far across the path to the newcomer’s dungeon. Her brain warned her against it, but her feet refused to heed her thoughts. Heck, she’s one of the dwellers of hell already, what can possibly be worse than this?

As she made her way deeper to the pit, she could hear music and screams echoing through the walls. Shortly, she arrived in front of the final entrance. What welcomes her eyes were nothing she had seen during her stay in hell.

The usually lifeless, dark ambiance are transformed into dimmed red lights, decorated with wreaths, mistletoe and other Christmas ornaments. People, or is it souls? , were seen either walking around or dancing in weird costumes. Among them, she saw winged creatures, ghouls, gargoyles and goblins lounging around the place, but nobody seemed to even notice they are there. Despite that, she could have sworn this is just another themed-party in a club she once went to.

Ollie was not alarmed with the resemblance. She was just confused with the idea of lost souls and demons alike celebrating Christmas in hell. Well, albeit not religiously.

Just then, she heard footsteps coming her way, so she immediately hid herself on the towering pillar on the far corner opposite the entrance. Two hooded figures were bickering.

“I still don’t think it’s a good idea to place the threshold here,” a female voice said.

“Hey, relax, will you? All the other guys were busy, and the ones who remain are souls too preoccupied with their own misery in their cells. We’re done with our shift, so let’s just go now and have fun. We’ll be in and out before the high-ranking hot shots even realized it,” a male voice prompted, “besides, it’s easier for us to escape if we place it here. It’s closer to our quarters.”

Ollie realized they were the escorts who picked souls up from the shores of the underworld, guessing from how close they say their chambers are.

The female escort’s resolve seem to waver as she said, “Alright, but I’ll leave you if you refused to go back with me under any circumstances, deal?”

“Deal,” the male escort scoffed, “I don’t really get why you’re so uptight about this. We’re hell’s creatures! Why would we give a shit about curfews, rules and whatnot?”

The female rolled her eyes, “You know it’s not because of that. We are neither souls nor demons, remember? If we stayed upstairs after the Big Guy went back down, we’ll vanish to thin air.”

“What’s so bad about it?” the male nonchalantly asked, “I got tired of simply existing in hell alone.”

The female crossed her arms and shot him a look. He seemed to get it and waved his arms in front of her, “Yeah, yeah, you gotta see her one last time… You sure she’s heading downstairs tho?”

There was silence and then footsteps are heard again as the male said again, “Alright, alright. Let’s drop it at that and go, okay? We’re wasting time!” Then they passed through the entrance. Ollie crept out of her hiding and saw the escorts changed to look somewhat like regular human beings wearing red and black, their hoods gone to thin air.

Ollie then weighed her options. If she heard them correctly, only a soul or a demon can pass through the earth-hell wormhole thing without any consequences. That means, she could probably return to life again.

But no catches? Seems to good of a proposition to be true, especially coming from hell itself.

But once she’s back out there, Ollie thought, at least she could have some time off and mentally prepare herself to the routines of hell. The best thing that could happen is if hell’s creature are truly as ignorant as they seem to be that they will not realize one of their newcomers have gone missing. Again, at least if she got dragged back eventually, her second time in hell will not be too much of a shock.

Not to mention that ridiculous lawsuit is still ongoing…

Right, unfinished business should be enough reason for her to try this out. She took two long glances over her shoulder to make sure no one is around, then she set her eyes at the party ahead. While the music was playing too loud, everybody was jumping and screaming, she took her chance and slid past the threshold.

Making her way out of the crowd, she breathed out the air outside like she was clinging to every inch of it. She snickered at the turn of events; who would’ve thought one can escape hell, on Christmas day nonetheless?

Maybe you’re not off Santa’s good-and-naughty list even though you’ve been sent to hell.

 

Les Miserables

A/N: I… don’t even know what this is. Bleurgh. Brain fart!

“Well, that sucked.”

He simply nodded his head in agreement. He let out a huge sigh as she patted his back. Then they sat in silence for a while, watching a few people ride their boards on the skating park in front of them.

“So, Christmas is gonna be awkward,” she remarked.

“Again,” he finished the sentence for her, “I mean, ever since I can remember none of the holidays in the family have been genuinely cheerful. You see, this is why I believe we all are better off apart from each other. Especially the old folks.”

She hummed in understanding, “Seems weird that they tried to stick together somehow thinking it would work out eventually, but never actually trying to be open enough to discuss it, dunnit?”

“You can say that again,” he sprawled on top of the grass, “like somehow things we’ll magically settle itself.”

“And they say that means there’s love,” she began to chuckle loudly, “what kind of masochist would even think that? No offense to your folks, man. Mine was just the same.”

“None taken,” he smirked, “speaking of which, how is it gonna be this year with your folks?”

“My sister’s gonna meet Ma with her boyfriend for dinner on Christmas eve. Imma travel with Pa, we’ll leave tomorrow. We’ll change places for Christmas day.”

“Seems like you guys found a neat system.”

“It’s better than how it used to be,” she shrugged, “I’m just grateful this year we didn’t get to meet the other relatives. Either they would look at me and my sister with pity, which is totally unnecessary, or they’d start talking shit about Pa or Ma, depends on which side we visited.”

“Ugh, yeah that could be nasty,” he sat up, again sighing loudly, “there doesn’t seem to be any way out of this whole thing. And this whole holiday spirit thing and being home for it only makes me pettier. I’d be looking at commercials one second, and the next thing I know I’d get annoyed on why everybody looks so damn happy. What the fuck.”

She laughed, “Oh man. We never really get used to it even after years of watching them fight, don’t we?”

“At least yours are giving some time off of each other a chance, man. Mine’s just… fucked up AND in denial. I can’t wait for next year to come. I’ll make sure to get accepted at least somewhere half across the country.”

“Yeah, now that Pa rediscovered a long, forgotten hobby and finally managed to get over the thought of being a lonely, useless, old man, I can’t be more excited to start living alone. By the way, come over to the ramen place some time, he’d be happy to see you.”

“Oh, right, I’ll have lunch there tomorrow before you guys leave.” He took his board and got up, “wanna hit the park again?”

“Sure,” she put her snapback on and tied her shoes, “feeling better now?”

“I guess,” he replied, unsure, “I mean, I know they will still be ridiculous once I get home, but oh well, what can I do? Let’s just skate and forget about it for a moment.”

“Sounds good enough,” she went up and picked her board, walking together with him.

As he was about to get on the board, he paused suddenly and looked at her, saying, “Are we gonna be fucked up like them, too?”

Perplexed, she replied, “I hope not. What makes you think that?”

“Looking at it every day of our lives, don’t you think it’ll influence us in any way?” he wondered, “this is depressing.”

“Oh well, shared sorrow is half of it,” she set her board on the floor, “we’ll be fine.”

She held out her fist, and he bumped his with hers, “Happy Christmas, man.”

“Yeah, happy Christmas to you, too.”

As they went faster and felt the wind blowing on their faces, he thought, maybe this is the kind of ‘sticking together’ that’s worth it.

Making Ends Meet

Source: We meet again, father.

My hands were covered in white. This time, I’d make sure it’s not just his reflection I saw on the mirror.

I took a step back and made sure the circle was drawn correctly. Reaching out to the grimoire, I replicated the patterns and letters unfamiliar to many as I recited soft words of invocations. With one last stroke, the chalk markings shone the colour of fire as if I just breathed in magic to it.

Taking my stand on the circle, I placed my hand in the air above the diamond-shaped center. Letting go off the bits of anxiety in a deep exhale, I shut my eyes and murmured boldly, “Evocatio.”

My eyes opened on their own accord as I felt a blinding light and newfound heat engulfing my body. A hue of black sprung out of the diamond, immediately replaced by a man whose face I would never not recognize.

“We meet again, Father.”

“It’s so nice of you to invite me here, Son,” he greeted as he retracted his dark, unkempt wings, “we finally get to chat.”

“Shall I cut to the chase?”

“Very straightforward,” he remarked with a sly grin that is almost unfamiliar, “you’ve grown up to be just like your mother…”

“And that is precisely why we’re here today,” I interrupted, “I would like to know why instead of Mum, it was you I saw the other day in the psychomanteum chamber.”

“I must say I’m a tad disappointed, Enoch,” he said, somewhat sincere, which is a surprising emotion for his lot to emit, “do you not miss your father?”

He knew I don’t. He was barely there when I was young, and I never really have a problem with it. My mother alone has always been more than enough, though sometimes I pity her efforts to convince me he actually cared for us. I reckon there was no need to answer the question so I simply held my gaze still.

He snickered, saying, “You even inherited that look from her. Oh, I can almost feel guilty again…”

“You haven’t answered my question,” I curtly remarked. He sighed–mockingly, I suppose–then proceeded to pace ahead.

“Well, were you sure you surrounded yourself with her mementos?”

“Of course,” I replied, showing him the grimoire, “I even made sure I brought this bloody book despite the risk of losing it.”

He stopped at his tracks at the mention of the book. He took a glance at it and said, “That is probably where your first mistake lies, Son. The mementos are not only things that she cherishes when she was alive, but specifically those that reminds you of her.”

“I wouldn’t bring this book if it didn’t remind me of her. She practically slept with it under her pillows.”

“You need to share those memories with her. Clearly, she didn’t have as many memories of you in the book as much as you do.”

I was hit by a sudden realization. “But she does with you… and that is why you were called instead?”

He continued pacing in the circle. Skeptically, I took it as a yes.

“Was that how you met her?” I inquired, “was she a seer too?”

“I assume she tried to keep you away from this world,” then he answered firmly, “no, she wasn’t a seer. She tried, but no. Even so, she never left her research. You do know that much.”

That I do, which is why I would never except that her death was dismissed by the police as suicide. She told me the night before that she was close to a new discovery, but that’s about it. She said she didn’t want to jinx it but was too excited that she needed to at least tell someone. It turned out she would never been able to when I found her in her office, holding an empty bottle of what was supposed to contain sedatives, cold as ice.

Frankly, the detectives are imbeciles for not considering the irony that a person who is so enthusiastically immersed in her project would be overdosing from sleeping pills.

“So are you up for another attempt?” he suddenly chimed in. I almost jolted from being lost in my thoughts of what happened almost a couple of weeks ago. Yet I can’t help being taken aback from his not-so-subtle encouragement.

“You want me to try again? I would consider you just asked me to do you a favour, Father.”

He arched his eyebrows in amusement, “Will you look at that? You’d make a decent demon.”

“You mean a decent human being,” I corrected him calmly, “consequently, you would owe me a favour if I succeeded to summon Mum…”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, boy,” he waved his right hand disdainfully, “you still have a long way to guarantee all this would work.”

“Which is where you came in,” I asserted, “your part of this deal is that you will make sure I achieve all the objectives. I will meet Mum. I will know who killed her, and I will finish her work. I won’t even question whatever it is you desire from the outcome.”

He appeared hesitant for a moment, but was also contemplating hard in silence. I chose to trust my guts and egged on him more.

“You know you need me to do this. You can’t find her down where you belong, can you? And there isn’t much Nephilims around who would be able to pull it off as I would. There is no stronger link,” I reminded him, hopefully not sounding too presumptuous, “Not to mention, I am risking my life. What I ask of you earlier sounds more like a small favor, innit?”

He seemed to find his smug smile back and said, “Now we’re talking. I see there is a little of me in you, after all.”

I don’t exactly need his approval, but I certainly hope it’s working since I am getting a little impatient, “Do we have a deal, then?”

He turned his back on me, tapped his shoulders and his hideous wings vanished from our sights. He pulled a black suit from thin air, turned his body to face me and pulled out a pair of shades.

“Come,” he gestured to the door, “we’ve got work to do.”

Dining Hell

Dialogue Prompt taken from PROMPTUARIUM

“New arrivals!”

Feeling like I have just summoned air to my lungs, I pried my eyes open and found myself on a small boat, moving quietly to a shore. Looking to my left and right, I saw around six to seven more boats heading to the same direction. In front of me stood a hooded figure  right on top of the bow. Could it be I’m… dead?

As if answering my question, my sight directed me towards the left of my stomach. I saw red. I feel the vertical gash, but not the pain.

I am dead.

The hooded figure suddenly loomed over me; its hands gesturing for me to leave the boat. It turned out that we arrived to the shore while I was in a trance. I jerked up and stood immediately, making my way to the other souls–I reckon–who were gathering nearby the rocky land. A pale lady, in a gray, tattered dress, took a glance at us, then proceeded to lead us somewhere as she held a small lantern.

I felt like we have walked for hours in the darkness until I realized we no longer stepped on rocks and pebbles, but just a cold, flat surface. We took a right turn and as the lady stopped in her tracks, so were we. She turned to face us and opened one side of a curtain, signaling us to come in, one at a time. Again, I waited, to my own surprise, in deeper stillness.

Never had I thought anything, like death, could be this silencing. Suppose it is true that no one ever stops learning about oneself, even after death.

At that, I felt a shove from my back, and I stumbled through the curtain, only to find some sort of a dining hall with round tables filling the room, encircled with tall tongues of fire. The coldness before the drapes melted from my skin. I was pondering how odd it was to be able to still feel the temperature while being numb to my own wound when I heard someone call my name.

“Ms. Lea Ruskin?”

A waiter who somewhat looked like a black-colored mannequin with no facial features called to me. Again, I was too dazed with such oddity that I could only come up with a nod and eventually a squeaky “Yes?”

“Right this way,” he said, “if you would follow me.” And so I did.

The animate mannequin-waiter led me to a seat on a round dining table. Quite frankly, I was excited to get to sit down after the long walk despite not being tired–I assume my dead body is still adjusting to the fact that my lungs no longer supported my stamina–but approaching the table, I quickly wanted to just turn back and leave as I saw two familiar faces gasping at my presence. I prayed hard, hoping it could still be heard somehow, that the waiter will lead me to another table, but he had already pulled out a chair not two seats away from them.

“You!?”

“Well, hello, Mrs. Durand.”

“Of all people!”

“It’s nice to see you too, Aunt Marie.”

This is so reminiscent of the night Julian and I broke the news of the cancellation of the wedding. His mother and his aunt–her biggest supporter–were flipping mad, mostly at me. Seeing they still couldn’t get over it even after death, I guess it really wasn’t just because they couldn’t wear the matching dress they had custom-made years prior to the ceremony. Was it a childhood promise? One of the things in their bucket list? I can’t recall.

Mrs. Durand was quick to compose her cynical self as she cleared her throat and bit, “Well, I told her I’d save her a seat in hell.” I figured that was one of the things she screamed at me before we were ousted from the restaurant for the commotion caused mainly by her.

Not at our table!” exclaimed Aunt Marie, “oh, are we really held against everything we said when we were alive? When will the misery end?”

“I’m afraid not ever, Ma’am,” the waiter answered, reminding us that he was still there to witness the ruckus, “this is hell, after all. And yes, you are held against your every word.”

Then everything is as clear as day. I, too, have said something along the lines of, “There is no punishment in hell more cruel than actually having to dine in with the abomination that is my ex-fiance’s mother and her sister.” I thought remarks made when you are drunk and in pain after a failed engagement should not count. Unwilling to relent to this set-up, for the first time in my life had I been alive, I attempted to talk my way out of it.

“Look,” I began, “if it’s about not enjoying anyone’s company, I suppose there must be other tables you can take me to.”

“There isn’t any that repulsed you most, Ms. Ruskin,” he said, resolutely, “and so would it be most disagreeable to Mrs. Durand and Mrs. Leroy. We only served the worst you can possibly imagine. And more.” He pointed at my chair, willing I would take my seat immediately. I can’t seem to find a better argument, so I sat myself down. Then he bowed his head and left us.

Just as I thought this couldn’t get any worse, it did. The food that was served looks mouthwatering, but tampered with. No, not in any way there are maggots or whatever it is you saw inedible in a horror movie; they were just not served as you’d like it. My steak was still basically swimming in blood, while Mrs. Durand and her sister’s had it too overcooked for their own taste. Not to mention they had not enough teeth to chew things properly. The hole in my stomach oozed out some of the dinner–mostly the wine and the soup–which irked the sisters to no end. I couldn’t risk having the pudding, which used to be my favorite. The sisters skipped directly to tea, which made way out of their mouths and nostrils just as they sipped it. I did not dare ask why.

Despite the food being cleared out of the table, I am afraid we would not be ushered away from the table as early as we wanted to. The sisters kept at their nasty remarks for me, my “second thoughts” and whatever they see appropriate to hurt me. I kept quiet, not because I am incapable of retorting, but because I do not want them to think they get into me. I have always been good at enduring shit talks, and seeing them getting even more irritated with my lack of response allowed me a little pleasure.

And I’d settle for just a bit of it, lest they took me somewhere I truly can’t stand. Guess having tight lips do help you survive not only the world of the living, but also the dead.

But evidently, attempting to kill your ex-fiancee’s current girlfriend and ironically bleeding to death yourself may just win you a reservation straight to hell.